Thursday, June 20, 2013

5 Fundamentals on the Climate Crisis

It was a beautiful day in Chicago yesterday. Sunny, cool . . . . "Maybe everything's gonna be okay?" I thought. "Who worries about the climate crisis on a day like this?"

And then it struck me: "Don't believe it. Just 'cause it's not miserably hot, people had better not think for a minute that the climate crisis isn't for real."

So today I'm back to work and writing a long-overdue list of 5 big things I've been thinking about the climate crisis.


For me, the big "Aha!" came from Bill McKibben's explanation of how the big oil companies are claiming 5 times as much fossil fuel in their reserves as we can ever use without "breaking" the planet (i.e. without driving atmospheric CO2 levels far beyond what is generally recognized as a disaster point).

You can read about it in McKibben's article, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is, and in more detail on the Climate Crisis Chicago blog.


We all need something to remind us of our own role in bringing about the climate crisis. For me, my best reminder comes each day when I walk out onto Clark Street in Chicago and watch the cars go by.

Beyond being a source of CO2 (and other pollutants), cars are a sort of vector for our American/Western/modern disease of consumption. No car, no mall. No mall, no house full of stuff. No house full of stuff, no explosion of production in economies around the world. You get the picture.

More than being the thing that is causing global warming, our cars are carrying the ideology of consumption from person to person to person, the way a mosquito spreads malaria.

Our cars are our ticket to instant gratification. And mushrooming emissions.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think, "If I slow down long enough to think about what I'm doing, will I really feel I need to go/do/buy/consume/throw away what I have in mind?


We all need to be involved. And not just at the level of changing some light bulbs. Or sending a check to an environmental non-profit.

We're going to need to commit our lives to change this. Some people will understand this if I use the analogy of A-A: you're going to have to work on it every day. Other people will understand it in terms of church membership. Still others in terms of the daily commitment involved in raising a child.

The good news is this: there is a meaningful role for each of us. See point #5 below.


Why do we have to make sacrifices in our own (finite) lives to clean up someone else's mess?

That's a question we're going to have to answer.

More than anything else, my own work on the climate crisis has made me realize that we do not have a morality that adequately addresses the problem we are facing. All of our moral systems are focused on what's happening here and now, or else they throw up their hands and talk about "eternal" things, but we don't really have a way of talking about why I should change what I'm doing today in the interest of people 3 generations from now.

Anyone who doesn't believe this is true should go back and look at point #1. There is no way that we could be coming so perilously close to "breaking the planet" unless we simply don't comprehend the risk of the extinction of our own species -- or don't care.


The one piece of good news is that we all have ways that our special skills, knowledge, gifts, and passions can be brought to bear on finding a solution to the climate crisis.

For myself, I realized that the years I have spent doing business with China and learning about economic development there and in the rest of Asia gives me something of value to share with others.

I have begun writing about how the fate of the Earth is intertwined with the ability of BOTH China AND the U.S. to reverse their addiction to carbon. I think this linkage is so critical that it deserves its own word: "chinaEARTHusa".

Those are my 5 fundamentals. What are yours?

P.S. - As I was writing this, the New York Times landed on my doorstep. The lead story is Obama Readying Emissions Limits on Power Plants. Perhaps his day yesterday started out like mine? "Maybe everything's gonna be okay?" . . . .

Related posts

It has been announced that China and the U.S. will hold a top leadership meeting at the beginning of June. If the past is any indication, we will get a lot of cautious, lukewarm pronouncements about cooperation that don't begin to address the reality. It's time for activists in the U.S. and China to join hands and start to militate for radical change. We need a zero-carbon USA and a zero-carbon China. Anything less is planetocide.

(See #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide? )

Read about the Climate Crisis Chicago Conference held February 16, 2013, in Chicago . . . and connect with participating organizations!

 All activism is local.

So . . . can we create a Zero Carbon Chicago?